18th century Huddersfield was one of a cluster of textile-manufacturing townships. A market charter had been granted in 1671. To house a growing trade a cloth hall was built in 1765. The appointment of Improvement Commissioners in 1820 led to improved communications and more rapid development. In 1868 the town became a municipal borough. The population grew from just over 30,000 in 1851 to 95,000 in 1901.
The town was a strong but turbulent centre of early Methodism. The rough manners and way of life of the inhabitants in the 18th century prompted John Wesley to comment that 'a wilder people I never saw in England.' Though itinerants were active in the vicinity in the 1750s and 1760s and Wesley paid his first visit in May 1757, the first chapel did not open until 1776, following the departure of the popular evangelical vicar Henry Venn in 1771. This Old Bank society was almost wiped out when the MNC took possession of the chapel in 1797. A new WM start was made in Queen Street (1800). Both connexions thrived; the MNC opened a new chapel in High Street (1815) after losing a legal battle to retain Old Bank, and WM built a new Queen Street chapel, seating 2,000, in 1819. This was soon filled. Old Bank was used as a Sunday School and also as an occasional overflow chapel. It was redeveloped as Buxton Road chapel in 1837, becoming head of its own circuit in 1844.
PM was weak in the area, with its first chapel being built only in 1847. But WM was again torn apart by the Fly Sheets controversy of 1849. After contesting possession of Queen Street chapel, in 1857 the Reformers moved out and opened Brunswick in 1859, but did not join the UMFC until 1866. As the town grew in the later nineteenth century, both WM and MNC membership kept pace with population growth. The MNC opened a large gothic chapel in High Street in 1867 and formed a second circuit in 1876; the UMFC had three circuits by 1884 and WM, whose numbers equalled those of the other two combined, formed a third circuit based on a new suburban chapel at Gledholt in 1888. From 1906 Queen Street eventually experienced a new lease of life as a Central Mission under the leadership of William H. Heap and later Colin Roberts, with a range of activities and a membership far in excess of any since 1850.
Following Methodist Union in 1932 and circuit amalgamations, the other central chapels had closed by 1960;the centre of gravity moved to the suburbs and then to the suburbanized villages. But the Queen Street Mission remained active, moving to King Street in 1970 and to Lord Street in 1998. Since 2011 an evening café, opening daily from Monday to Friday, has been a focal point of the Mission's response to community needs.
John Wesley's Journal:
My 1757: 'I rode over the mountains to Huddersfield. A wilder people I never saw in England. The men, women and children filled the street as we rode along, and appeared just ready to devour us. They were, however, tolerably quiet while I preached; only a few pieces of dirt were thrown, and the bellman came in the middle of the sermon, but was stopped by a gentleman of the town. I had almost done when they began to ring the bells; so that it did us small disservice. How intolerable a thing is the gospel of Christ to them who are resolved to serve the devil!'
July 1759: 'I preached near Huddersfield, to the wildest congregation I have seen in Yorkshire; yet they were restrained by an unseen hand, and I believe some felt the sharpness of His word.'
July 1764: 'The church was pretty well filled, considering the very short warning.'
August 1765: 'Mr. Venn having given notice on Sundy of my preaching, we had a numerous congregation.'
August 1766: 'The church, though large, was exceeding hot, through the multitude of people; on whom I enforced St. Paul's words, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." '
July 1772: ' preached … at two in the market-place at Huddersfield to full as large a congregation as at Halifax.'
April 1774: 'I preached … in the evening near the church in Huddersfield. The wind was high and very sharp; but the people little regarded it, while I strongly enforced those words, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" '
April 1779: 'I preached at Huddersfield, where ther is a great revival of the work of God. Many have fpound peace with God; sometimes sixteen, eighteen, yea, twenty in one day. So that they deadly wound they suffered when their Predestinarian brethren left them is now fully healed; and they are not only more lively, but more in number, than ever they were before.'
May 1788: 'About six I preached at Huddersfield, where our brethren are now all at peace and unity with each other.'
'Huddersfield had 7,000 inhabitants in 1801 and 10,000 by 1871. In religion it as largely Methodist… Best of all [its Nonconformist churches] is the Methodist church in Queen Street, rebuilt in 819 in Adam style in cut stone forming one side of a classic square.'
John Betjeman, in Lovely Bits of Old England (2012) p.7